Why I Write
“How do I know what I think until I see what I say?” ~ E.M. Forster
Reflecting on a book about journaling, Diane Mackinnon had this to say in her blog post today: “My thoughts go in circles when I am just thinking them, but there is something about the implied dialogue of journaling that allows my thoughts to move forward and resolve when I write them down.”
That is a good description of why I like to write. For me, it works something like this. Something happens: typical life encounter, seeing a TV show, reading my Twitter or Facebook feeds, a current event. I take it in and respond to it, usually first at a gut level. Literally. I feel a knot in my stomach (if it’s bad), a heaviness in my heart (if it’s sad), a sense of giddy lightness (if it’s exciting)… You get the picture. I feel things first – almost always. Unfortunately, I’m a slow processor. I can’t always verbalize immediately why I feel bad, sad, excited, or mad. So I think about things to try to figure them out. But like Diane said, my thinking pattern tends to be circular. I have a hard time getting past the obvious. It’s frustrating.
So when I am feeling something particularly strongly, you’ll probably find me with at the keyboard writing it down. When I write, I start with the obvious. “I can’t believe she said that! That hurt! Why was she being so mean?” I spit it all out and keep going. Pretty soon I’m able to move in another level. “You know, she looked to be on the verge of tears herself. That’s unusual – she rarely shows emotion like that. I wonder what she was feeling.” I’m beginning to get a little distance from my emotions. It’s amazing what a little objectivity can do for you. “I think she said those things because she really does care. She thought I didn’t get what she was saying, so she said it more forcefully. Maybe she wasn’t being mean. Maybe she was being protective.”
A part of me wants to think that this only happens with journal writing. “Serious” writing should be much more mind-driven than gut-driven, right? To some extent, that may be true, but I tend to think that most writing originates in this way. Something happens. We respond to it on a gut level and want to understand and explain why. Maybe we do that through journaling or blogging. Maybe we do it through personal experience essays or memoir. Maybe we tackle it through a short story or novel. Regardless, writing is ultimately a grand exercise in figuring out life and sharing what we learn. Really – how can we know what we think until we see what we say?